Hearing loss is often characterized by muted or muffled hearing that makes it hard to understand or distinguish words, especially in noisy situations. As a result, people with hearing loss must often ask others to speak more slowly and clearly, and they may also turn their television or radio volume to a level that may seem excessive to others. It’s not surprising that people with hearing loss will sometimes withdraw from conversations or social occasions for fear of not getting the full experience or having to ask others to repeat themselves. Fortunately, hearing aids and cochlear implants are effective treatments for hearing loss.
Hearing loss can occur naturally with age (see “presbycusis” below), or it can occur after damage is done to the inner ear or if the eardrum is ruptured. It can be caused by an ear infection or even earwax. And it can also accompany many of the hearing disorders listed below.
Presbycusis or “age-related hearing loss” refers to the common and gradual loss of hearing that comes with age. This hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs that pick up sound inside your ear are damaged or die. These hair cells do not regrow. Hearing loss can also occur from years of exposure to loud noises.
Tiny hairs inside your ear help you hear. They pick up sound waves and change them into the nerve signals that the brain interprets as sound. Hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs inside the ear are damaged or die. These tiny hairs capture sound waves and turn them into nerve signals that the brain recognizes as sound. Because these hair cells do not regrow after they die, most age-related hearing loss is permanent.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no corresponding external sound. It is often described as a ringing in the ears that can be heard in one or both ears, or even just in the head. Some patients with tinnitus also describe it as a whooshing, whining, buzzing or whistling sound. These sounds can be intermittent or constant. Tinnitus can be caused by loud sounds, ear infections, wax build up, allergies or foreign objects are placed in the ear. Most people who have tinnitus also have some level of hearing loss; in fact, having hearing loss increases one’s chances of also experiencing tinnitus. For some, the symptoms of tinnitus are mild. For others, the symptoms are tinnitus are more severe, which leads to anxiety and distress during their day-to-day lives.
Swimmer’s Ear — also known as “otitis externa” — is an irritation, infection or inflammation of the ear canal or the outer ear. It can be caused by scratching the inside of the ear or bacteria or fungi that cause ear infections. These are often present in polluted water. Swimmer’s ear is common, and it can be acute or chronic. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include ear pain, itching of the ear, hearing loss and ear drainage. It is commonly treated with antibiotic ear drops, pain medication and corticosteroids.
Otitis media is more commonly known as a middle ear infection. It is most often caused by viral, bacterial or fungal pathogens. Symptoms of middle ear infections include . Chronic otitis media occurs when the middle ear is chronically infected and eardrum perforation is present. Acute otitis often occurs after a cold.
Mastoiditis occurs when the skull’s mastoid bone becomes infected, which can lead to hearing loss, ear pain, swelling and redness of the ear, fever and headache. It is usually caused by acute otitis media, as the middle ear infection can spread from the ears to the mastoid bone. Mastoiditis is usually treated by antibiotics — first by injection, and then later by mouth. If antibiotics prove ineffective, mastoidectomy surgery may be required.
Otosclerosis occurs when an abnormal, sponge-like bone grows inside the middle ear. This condition can lead to hearing loss, as the bone prevents the ear from vibrating in response to sound. Otosclerosis usually begins in early to middle adulthood, and it is one of the main causes of hearing loss among young adults.
Between 50,000-100,000 people every year get Meniere’s disease. This inner ear disorder occurs when the endolymphatic sac — part of your ear’s semicircular canal — becomes swollen. The canals help to regulate the body’s balance. As such, Meniere’s disease affects not only a person’s balance but also their hearing. Symptoms of Meniere’s disease can include vertigo, dizziness, sweating, vomiting, nausea, loss of balance and loss of hearing. A person may also experience ringing in the ears (also known as tinnitus). While their is not yet a cure for Meniere’s disease, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help to alleviate symptoms.
An acoustic neuroma is a slow-growing and benign tumor that occurs on the vestibular cochlear nerve, which connects the ear to the brain. It will not spread since it is not cancerous, but it can cause nerve damage as it grows. Acoustic neuromas can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and vertigo. Less common symptoms include dizziness, headaches, difficulty understanding speech, facial numbness of pain, sleepiness and vision problems.
Cholesteatoma is a skin cyst located in the middle ear that often results as a complication chronic ear infection (though it sometimes occurs as a congenital birth defect). The cyst is created when poor eustachian tube function allows negative pressure into the middle ear, which in turn creates a pocket that fills with skin cells and other waste material. If not surgically removed, the cyst can grow and cause damage to the middle ear. Symptoms of cholesteatoma include hearing loss, dizziness and ear drainage.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Ear tube dysfunction — also known as ear barotrauma — refers to discomfort or damage done to the ear as a results of a pressure difference between the inside and outside of the eardrum. Many people have experienced this difference in pressure after changing altitude, such as happens when flying, diving or driving up or down mountain roads. It can also accompany allergies, colds or upper respiratory infections, as nasal congestion can block the eustachian tube. Symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction include slight hearing loss, ear discomfort, and dizziness. More severe symptoms include ear pain, ear pressure, nosebleeds and moderate or severe loss of hearing.
Ruptured Ear Drum
A ruptured ear drum (or a perforated ear drum) occurs when the thin membrane that is the eardrum is pierced, ruptured or perforated. This can happen after exposure to a very loud noise or if something is pushed too far into the ear canal. A middle ear infection can also cause an ear drum to rupture. Most ruptured eardrums will heal on their own in a few weeks, but those that do not may require surgery. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include possible discharge and decreased hearing.